Michiel van der Vaart is leading a renovation project at Golfclub De Dommel, north of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, with work planned over three phases and scheduled to finish in time for the club’s centenary in 2028.
Spogard & VanderVaart was appointed in 2022 and Van der Vaart created a new masterplan that aims to improve playability and safety on the course, reinstate De Dommel’s original heathland style, and better connect holes.
De Dommel was opened in 1929 as a nine-hole layout by Harry Colt. Those holes now play as the back nine, while the front nine comprises three holes (one, eight and nine) by Frank Pennink that opened in 1984 and six designed by Frank Pont and built in 2014.
Contractor Jos Scholman began the first phase of construction in February 2023, with work focused on the holes added in 2014 and including new greens on the sixth and seventh. On the sixth, Van der Vaart wanted to address the lack of visibility of the green from the fairway. “We are changing it from a par five to a par four, which also impacts the shape of the green,” he said. “The size will be different, and we now have the option of locating the green further away from the trees so that more daylight can enter.
“The green at the par-three seventh was too difficult, not only for the players but for the greenkeeping team as well. There were too few pin positions and the putting surface mainly sloped away from the line of play, so there was limited visibility of the green from the tee.”
The first phase also includes the addition of new bunkers on holes two, three and four, built to a more rugged, heathland style.
A major focus for Van der Vaart will be to open the course up more. “The course has become overgrown over the past decades,” he said. “It’s a necessity to open things up to allow for more strategic golf. All of the ‘old’ 12 holes do need more width, not only for playability but for sunlight and airflow across tees, fairways and greens. The result I want to achieve is more clustered trees – mainly pines – combined with open areas where heather, sand and fescue form a more naturalistic look. The big advantage when changing this type of landscape is that the biodiversity will thrive as well.
“The biggest change in this regard will be the eighth and ninth holes. The eighth plays with a sharp dogleg left that is currently blocked by trees if the drive is less than 190 metres. In opening up the left side, from around the 150-metre mark, and changing the woodland into heather with little sandy dunes, players will be able to hit across this area, creating a more Cape-like effect.
“The integration of heathlands has everything to do with the identity of this golf course. Heather occurs naturally here but it has disappeared in many places over time. This is mainly due to too much shade from trees. Heather has a beautiful structure and colour, contrasting nicely with grasses. By incorporating heather in bunker edges, we can draw quirky natural shapes from the side, almost like fingers, close to the fairway. For the players it is a new form of obstacle but know from surrounding golf courses what to expect. For now, the beauty wins, and the difficulty increase is accepted.”
The second phase of the project will focus on tree removal, re-establishing heather areas and converting the eighteenth from a par four to a par five and the sixth from a par five to a par four, which includes the addition of fairway bunkers and a new green.
The final phase will see all bunkers and some areas of fairways renovated, the addition of tees to add variety in hole lengths, and the design team will look for ‘lost’ Colt bunkers and try to restore them.
“I am confident Colt would approve of what we are doing with the place,” said Van der Vaart. “Like many of the Golden Age architects, I try to combine strategy with natural-looking beauty.”